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Here you will find an overview of the journal articles and articles published in edited volumes by the research group and its members.

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2023

Deciphering Difference in Medieval Islamic Political Thought

Neguin Yavari

Deciphering Difference in Medieval Islamic Political Thought

The article is a re-examination of alterity as a component of the grammar of premodern political thought. The point of departure is a polyvalent anecdote found in several Islamic treatises on political thought with numerous cognates in texts from both the Islamic world and from further afieldThe anecdote bears on the concept of rex inutilis, in the first instance, and ethnogenesis as situational construct in the second.  The article argues that if properly contextualized, alterity points to the relationship between ethics and politics, and even historicity and fictionality, and the manifold ways in which those respective taxonomies and conceptual lineages are twined in premodern political thought to theorize sovereignty and good rule.


Yavari, Neguin.  “Deciphering Difference in Medieval Islamic Political Thought.” In L’Adab, Toujours Recommencé: “Origins,” Transmission and Metamorphoses of Adab Literature, edited by Catherine Mayeur Jaouen, Francesca Bellino, and Luca Patrizi, 316–33. Leiden: Brill, 2023.



2023

Supra Confessionals in the Medieval and Early Modern Persophone Zone

Neguin Yavari

Supra Confessionals in the Medieval and Early Modern Persophone Zone

This essay looks at questions like what catalyzed the supra-confessional move in the post-Mongol Persophone zone, and what did it leave in place for the ideologues of Iran’s 1979 revolution—another watershed regularly misattributed to confessional tenets—to cultivate and propagate. Secularity, like sovereignty is an old unspoken concept. It critiques religion’s multifarious overtures to the conduct of politics to alloy governance, and for the premodern world, it is the grammar of that concession—the twinning of religion and politics is one such example—that has attracted scholarly attention. Secularity is wielded most frequently by religionists against various opponents, as for instance in the writings of al-Māwardī, (d. 1058), Imam al-Ḥaramayn al-Juwaynī (d. 1085) and Ghazali (d. 1111) who grappled with the fallout from a weakened caliphate in the eleventh century.


Yavari, Neguin. "Supra Confessionals in the Medieval and Early Modern Persophone Zone" Political Theology Network, 2023.

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2023

Did medieval Christian Europe really produce early forms of secularity?

Sita Steckel

Did medieval Christian Europe really produce early forms of secularity?

Some narratives about secularization and modernization processes which include pre-modern history still tend to postulate a trajectory of an early emergence of secularity in Europe, particularly in the form of a separation of church and state beginning during the European Middle Ages. But more recent findings suggest that medieval Christian Europe remained quite comparable to other cultural constellations: Rather than a secular sphere, political dynamics produced demands for the de-politicization of religion, or at most, situations and social spaces of ‘neutrality.’

In the introduction and the preceding essays in this series, Rushain Abbasi, Conor O’Brien and Christoph Kleine show us that pre-modern societies in the Middle East, Europe, and Japan – which were traditionally understood to lack secularity – already debated and applied distinctions separating religion from non-religion. In the present contribution, which returns to western Europe during the period c. 1050–1550 CE, I would like to complement their argumentation, stressing the need for caution and precision in our endeavour: We can indeed illuminate a cultural genealogy of modern secularities by revisiting forms of the secular from the distant past. But we also need to accommodate the cultural alterity of many historical constellations – not least to avoid the pull of older Eurocentric narratives.


Steckel, Sita. "Did medieval Christian Europe really produce early forms of secularity?" Political Theology Network, 2023.

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2023

Preparing the Field for Secularity in Medieval Japan

Christoph Kleine

Preparing the Field for Secularity in Medieval Japan

In sociological theories, secularisation is often seen as the result of historical processes that initially took place in Europe and in Europe alone. Secularisation in other regions is said to be merely due to the influence of “the West.” Generally speaking, the term secularisation refers to a process of change in the relationship between the religious and the non-religious – usually to the detriment of the religious. In any case, secularisation presupposes a distinction between the religious and the non-religious. We refer to this binary distinction as “secularity.”

This essay makes a strong case that the social, political, economic and ideological developments that accompanied the transition from the Heian (794–1185) to the Kamakura period (1185–1333) generated epistemic and social structures of a longue durée that remained permanently available as a resource for a Japanese form of secularity.


Kleine, Christoph. "Preparing the Field for Secularity in Medieval Japan." Political Theology Network, 2023.

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2023

Eine russisch-islamische Synthese? Interaktionsmuster zwischen Christen, Muslimen und Staat im Wolgaraum vom Mittelalter bis in die Gegenwart

Klaus Buchenau

Russlands Krieg gegen die Ukraine wird zwar von der Führung der Russisch-Orthodoxen Kirche mit spirituellen Motivationen „unterfüttert“; allerdings stehen auch andere Glaubensgemeinschaften des Landes hinter dem Krieg, darunter maßgeblich die islamische. Die vorliegende Studie argumentiert, dass das gegenwärtige orthodox-islamische Bündnis zwar tiefe Wurzeln in der russischen Geschichte hat, sich aber keineswegs zwangsläufig aus der historischen Erfahrung ergibt.

Ferner wird am historischen Umgang Russlands mit Muslimen gezeigt, dass religiöse Vielfalt über weite Strecken der russischen Geschichte keineswegs die Säkularität stärkte – das russische Diversitätsmanagement kam (und kommt) häufig ohne eine religionsneutrale Plattform der Verständigung aus. Das erscheint aus westlicher Sicht problematisch, weil in unsere Vorstellungen einer „regelbasierten Weltordnung“ das Menschenrecht auf Gewissensfreiheit tief eingeschrieben ist. Vor der Vergleichsfolie nicht-westlicher Gesellschaften (z.B. Indiens) erscheint das „konservative Diversitätsmanagement“, welches auf einer Schnittmenge von religionsübergreifend geteilten Vorstellungen und traditionellen Verhaltensmustern basiert, aber keineswegs ungewöhnlich.


Buchenau, Klaus. “Eine russisch-islamische Synthese? Interaktionsmuster zwischen Christen, Muslimen und Staat im Wolgaraum vom Mittelalter bis in die Gegenwart.” IOS Mitteilungen 70. Leibniz Institut für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung, 2023.

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2023

Conference Report: The Relationship Between State and Religion in the Arab and Islamicate Contexts: Civil State, Secular State, Religious/Islamic State

Housamedden Darwish

Conference Report: The Relationship Between State and Religion in the Arab and Islamicate Contexts: Civil State, Secular State, Religious/Islamic State

What do the terms or concepts “civil state,” “secular state,” and “religious/Islamic state” mean? How can we understand the existing or possible relationships between religion/Islam and the state or politics in the Arab-Islamicate contexts based on the aforementioned concepts and their relationship to the concept of democracy? These were the two main questions that the conference “The Relationship between State and Religion in Arab and Islamic Contexts: The Civil State, the Secular State, and the Religious/Islamic State” sought to address, exploring multiple possibilities and perspectives. These two questions, as well as other related questions, deal with two distinct and overlapping aspects of the actual and/or potential relationship between the state and/or politics and religion/Islam. They include both a descriptive aspect, that seeks to reveal “what is,” and a normative aspect that shows, from an ethical, political, and philosophical perspective, “what should be.”

The papers presented at the conference covered studies on the relationship of religion with the state in many Arab Islamic countries (Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, etc.), as well as reflections and theoretical discussion from various academic disciplines and different political perspectives in Arab and Islamic countries. These papers attempted to answer the following questions: What are the forms and implications of the relationship between state and religion in Arab-Islamicate contexts? How could/should we theoretically approach the concepts that express this relationship? What is the relationship between state and religion in intellectual and political Arab and Islamicate contexts? In what sense and to what extent can we talk about a state as civil, secular and/or religious/Islamic? Does secularism mean the separation of religion (or church) from state, politics, or sovereignty? Or does it mean the separation of religious and political authorities? What are the practical and conceptual differences between these definitions and meanings of secularism? Can the concept of “civil state” be a complementary, substitute, or alternative concept to those of “secular state” and “religious/Islamic state”? In what sense and to what extent can each of these states be democratic?

Housamedden Darwish. “Conference Report: The Relationship Between State and Religion in the Arab and Islamicate Contexts: Civil State, Secular State, Religious/Islamic State.” 9-10 December 2021, Leipzig University, 2023.

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2023

The Pioneering Formulation of the Concepts of Secularity and Secularism in the Arab-Islamicate World(s): Butrus al-Bustani’s The Clarion of Syria

Housamedden Darwish

The Pioneering Formulation of the Concepts of Secularity and Secularism in the Arab-Islamicate World(s): Butrus al-Bustani’s The Clarion of Syria

This paper critically discusses the pioneering formulation of secularity and secularism in the Arab-Islamicate world(s) found in Butrus al-Bustani’s The Clarion of Syria (1860–1861). The paper relies on the conceptual framework adopted and developed by the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences “Multiple Secularities—Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities” at the University of Leipzig. According to this conceptual framework, secularity, as an analytical concept, concerns what is. It refers to the institutional and practical differentiation, and the theoretical or epistemological distinction, between the religious and the non-religious. This paper provides a conceptual analysis of secularity, secularism, and secularization, highlighting the differences between them, as well as the epistemological and methodological requirements for drawing a distinction between them in modern and contemporary Arab thought. It also reflects on the linguistic and historical context, looking at the concepts of secularity and secularism in Arab thought prior to al-Bustani’s The Clarion of Syria.


Darwish, Housamedden. “The Pioneering Formulation of the Concepts of Secularity and Secularism in the Arab-Islamicate World(s): Butrus Al-Bustani’s The Clarion of Syria.” Religions 14, no. 3:286 (2023): 286.

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2023

Progressif et illibérale: La critique ash’arite de l’état politique au XIe-siècle

Neguin Yavari

Progressif et illibérale: La critique ash’arite de l’état politique au XIe-siècle

The eleventh century brought a new political order to the eastern Islamic lands. It would be a mistake to assume that the political and scholarly elites of the era were merely sleepwalking into a new world. The intellectual record preserves a fierce debate among competing conceptions of legitimate rule and good governance, often linked to varying theologies of what was conceived as true “Islam.” What brought the intellectuals, the mystics, the clerics and the politicians together was the realization that without an overarching Islamic umbrella, the polity could not hold. The chapter also highlights the double function of religious discourse, at the same time critic and savior of the Abbasid polity. More importantly, the practical regard of intellectual debates, in the modern academy considered as an exclusive purview of Western intellectual history and the key to the emergence of modern politics in the West, is brought under sharp relief.

Yavari, Neguin. “Progressif et illibérale: La critique ash’arite de l’état politique au XIe-siècle.” In Liberté de parole: Les elites savantes et la critique des pouvoirs, Orient et Occident, VIIIe-XIIIe siècle, edited by Makram Abbés, and Marie-Celine Isaïa, 361–76. Turnhout: Brepols, 2023.

2023

Faith, Authenticity, and Pro-Social Values in the Lives of Young People in Germany

Christel Gärtner, and Linda Hennig

Faith, Authenticity, and Pro-Social Values in the Lives of Young People in Germany

Increasing secularization, pluralization, and individualization have done much to weaken denominational identities and traditional religiosity in most Western countries since the 1960s, with the effect that—to echo Niklas Luhmann—being religious requires purely religious reasons. This also applies to young people, for whom religion is still an option, but precisely one option among others, and according to Charles Taylor quite a challenging one. In our article, we want to focus on young people who actively engage with faith and religion, and who take up a different position with regard to religion than their peers during their adolescence. The data are in-depth interviews with families with three generations present. We will explore the ways in which teenagers (aged 12–19) and young adults (aged 22–25) are confronted with religious issues, as well as how they decide upon these issues and justify their decisions. We will argue that both the societal context and the life phase of adolescence or young adulthood make it likely that a person will base decisions regarding religion upon the criterion of authenticity. Our findings demonstrate that especially positioning towards the question of belief can be a lengthy and conflictual process. We identified two main forms of religiosity that are socially accepted in contemporary society: deriving a sense of social responsibility from faith and transforming and translating belief and religious experience into secular contexts


Gärtner, Christel, and Linda Hennig. "Faith, Authenticity, and Pro-Social Values in the Lives of Young People in Germany." In Religions 13:925 (2022).

2023

Ashoka’s Dhamma as a Project of Expansive Moral Hegemony

Rajeev Bhargava

Ashoka’s Dhamma as a Project of Expansive Moral Hegemony

This essay explores the Asokan politico-moral ethic, called Dhamma, and the role of moral and intellectual leadership in it both within the king’s own territory and beyond it. It shows that one of the central aspirations of Asoka’s Dhamma is a form of universalism, to shape the global order by sending emissaries all over the world. At appropriate junctures, it shows similarities of Asoka’s views to Xunzi’s as enunciated and compared by Yan Xuetong in this volume with Kautilya’s political vision. Kautilya provides somewhat of a contrast to Xunzi, whereas Asoka and Xunzi share many similarities. A comparison between Xunzi and Asoka is equally interesting, perhaps even more appropriate. At the core of Asoka’s edicts lies his conception of Dhamma, a set of precepts about how to lead a good individual and collective life. Dhamma is generally understood in India’s scholarly tradition to mean “law.” But in a recent essay, Patrick Olivelle has proposed that Dhamma be reconceived as civic religion, a term revived by Robert Bellah, after Rousseau first coined it in his classic work, The Social Contract.


Bhargava, Rajeev. "Ashoka’s Dhamma as a Project of Expansive Moral Hegemony." In Bridging Two Worlds, ed. Amitav Acharya, Daniel A. Bell, Rajeev Bhargava, and Yan Xuetong. California: University of California Press, 2023.

2022

Japanese Buddhist Concepts of Faith (Shin 信): The Postmodern Narrative of the Conceptual Hegemony of Western Modernity Reconsidered

Christoph Kleine

Japanese Buddhist Concepts of Faith (Shin 信): The Postmodern Narrative of the Conceptual Hegemony of Western Modernity Reconsidered

What does the Chinese term xin 信 mean? How does it relate to the concept of faith in a Western sense? How far does it still denote “being trustworthy” in its ancient Confucian sense? When did major shifts occur in its long history of semantics that allowed later Christian missionaries to use the term regularly as a translation for the concept of believing in gods or God?

This chapter examines the Japanese Buddhist concept of faith (shin 信), drawing parallels between Pure Land Buddhism and Protestantism. It discusses historical comparisons but acknowledges contemporary skepticism toward such comparisons due to concerns about cultural essentialism. The chapter navigates postcolonial critiques and post-structuralist perspectives, aiming to reconsider interpretations of faith within Japanese Buddhism beyond Western modernity's influence.

Kleine, Christoph. "Japanese Buddhist Concepts of Faith (Shin 信): The Postmodern Narrative of the Conceptual Hegemony of Western Modernity Reconsidered." In From Trustworthiness to Secular Beliefs: Changing Concepts of Xin 信 fom Traditional to Modern Chinese. Edited by Christian Meyer and Philip Clart, 172-95. Religion in Chinese societies volume 19. Leiden: Brill, 2023.

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2022

Ausdifferenzierung oder Aggregation? Oder: Wie soll ein Religionshistoriker soziale Differenzierung verstehen?

Christoph Kleine

Ausdifferenzierung oder Aggregation? Oder: Wie soll ein Religionshistoriker soziale Differenzierung verstehen?

Understanding is a fundamental concept in sociology as it aims to decipher social meaning. Its thematic openness and broad applicability make it an attractive and connectable concept. However, the workings of sociological understanding, its scope, and limitations require ongoing discussion. This volume presents various current perspectives on these questions. The article covers a wide range of topics, including the mechanisms of distinction in company canteens, spatial reconfiguration processes, the Islamic foundations of capitalist economics, and the procedures of understanding.


Kleine, Christoph."Ausdifferenzierung oder Aggregation? Oder: Wie soll ein Religionshistoriker soziale Differnzierung verstehen?" In Verstehen als Zugang zur Welt: Soziologische Perspektiven, edited by Marian Burchardt, Uta Karstein, and Thomas Schmidt-Lu , 237-60. Frankfurt: Campus Frankfurt / New York, 2022.

2022

An Outline of a Methodological Approach to Analyse Ranade’s Views about the “Saints and Prophets of Maharashtra”

Rinku Lamba

An Outline of a Methodological Approach to Analyse Ranade’s Views about the “Saints and Prophets of Maharashtra”

The analysis in this article suggests that M G Ranade’s reflections in his essay about the ‘Saints and Prophets of Maharashtra’ are significant because they offer a site to unravel shifts from a premodern to a modern conception of moral order on the Indian subcontinent, in the context of the encounter with colonialism.
For its role in allowing such unravelling, and for the way it permits attention to hitherto neglected dimensions of Ranade’s comparison between bhakti and the Protestant Reformation, this article argues for the value of investigating Ranade’s reflections through the framework of translation. While doing the above, the article also seeks to gesture toward methodological issues involved in the study of ideas and clusters of concepts that bear transtemporal resonance and relevance.


Lamba, Rinku. “Engaging Bhakti As/in Translation: An Outline of a Methodological Approach to Analyse Ranade’s Views About the 'Saints and Prophets of Maharashtra'” Interdisziplinäre Zeitschrift für Südasienforschung, no. 7 (2022): 128–60.

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2022

From Theology to Culture: Secularisation in Lajpat Rai’s ‘Hindu Nationalism,’ 1880s–1915

Vanya Vaidehi Bhargav

From Theology to Culture: Secularisation in Lajpat Rai’s ‘Hindu Nationalism,’ 1880s–1915

This article explores the Hindu thought of Lala Lajpat Rai (1865–1928), a prominent actor-thinker in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and often considered an ideological ancestor of Savarkarite Hindutva. Focussing on Rai’s thought between the 1880s and 1915, it argues that at the same time that Hindu beliefs and practices were undergoing a process of ‘religionisation’ in the late nineteenth century, in a prominent strand of thinking about Hindu identity, represented by Rai, Hindu religion was being ‘thinned down’. It was being defined less by reference to theological detail and complexity and more in broad and simple terms. Second, Hinduism also underwent a process of ‘culturalisation’. It was decoupled from faith and practice and re-formulated as secular ‘culture’. In Rai’s definition of Hindu identity, Hinduism progressively lost ground to ‘Hindu culture’, which by 1909 formed the centrepiece of his imagined ‘Hindu nation’. ‘Hindu culture’ served to include within Rai’s ‘Hindu nation’ various groups of Indians who were not followers of Hinduism, and simultaneously excluded India’s Muslims and Christians. Yet, I argue that this Hindu nationalism remained different from Savarkarite Hindutva. Through its examination of Rai’s thought, the article makes broader analytical points. One, that Hindu identity can be defined in various senses—thickly religious, thinly religious, broadly non-religious and ‘cultural’, apolitical, openly political, or implicitly political. Second, the thinning of religion can be viewed as a form of both religionisation and secularisation, and the secularisation of Hinduism via its culturalisation was co-eval with the larger process of religionisation. Third, it challenges the dichotomy drawn by Hindu nationalists and secularists alike between the process of secularisation and articulations of Hindu nationalist identity. Finally, Rai’s thought reveals that the secularisation and culturalisation of Hindu identity can culminate in a conception of ‘Hindu nationalism’ distinct from Hindutva.


Bhargav, Vanya V. “From Theology to Culture: Secularisation in Lajpat Rai’s ‘Hindu Nationalism,’ 1880s–1915.” Interdisziplinäre Zeitschrift für Südasienforschung, no. 7 (2022): 91–127.

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